People in ROOTS: Sofia (Sonja) Filatova

Sonja Filatova

The ‘People in ROOTS’ series proceeds with an interview of Sofia (Sonja) Filatova, one of the postdoctoral fellow of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

Last summer, you began to work in the framework of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. Can you tell us something about your research here?
I am involved in the subcluster Dietary ROOTS within the project ‘Genetic Variation in Ancestral Crops’ (link). This is an interdisciplinary collaboration between ancient plant geneticists, molecular biologists and archaeobotanists. We aim to investigate the origin and diversity of cultivated rye (Secale cereale L.) from the perspective of the genome of rye as well as the history of its cultivation. Our main archives are remains of desiccated rye that were used as part of the isolation of half-timbered houses in Central Europe from the Middle Ages until early modern times. As an archaeobotanist, I investigate the botanical remains in these archives to collect information on the physical properties of rye, to specify the human practices that defined its cultivation, to gather relevant information about the immediate surroundings where rye grew, and to look for potential signs of pathogens. My results will provide the historical and archaeobotanical context that is required for a holistic interpretation of the genomic data. Within ROOTS, this study will contribute to a better understanding of how humans and the environment have shaped each other through time by zooming in on the interplay between ourselves and cultivated rye.
More broadly, what are your main lines of research?
I am an archaeologist by training with a specialisation in archaeobotany. Broadly speaking, my main interests in the field of archaeobotany lie in the interactions between humans and plants and how the remnants of these interactions can be used to study past plant domestication, plant economy, food culture, and environment. As an archaeologist, one of my interests focuses on methodological questions concerning processes of deposition, the formation of archaeobotanical archives and how these processes reflect human behaviour and events of deposition. As an archaeobotanist, I am further interested in understanding the complex history of plant management and cultivation practices. Plants have often been viewed as static “natural objects” that can simply be manipulated according to the needs of humans, but as we now understand that plants are in turn able to “manipulate” us, this view has started to change. The development of rye enables an excellent case study on the association of plants and humans through time. Rye initially grew as a weed in wheat and barley fields and acquired traits of domestication via a process known as Vavilovian mimicry rather than selection through human action; it was eventually cultivated thousands of years after its initial appearance.

Career life before ROOTS: what were the main stations and milestones of your career path so far?
I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Groningen (the Netherlands) in July 2016. During my studies, I specialised in archaeobotany, but I was also trained in the archaeology of the Mediterranean and Northern Netherlands and I participated in a wide array of fieldwork projects, including archaeological excavations, geoarchaeological coring campaigns and ethnoarchaeobotanical studies. In November 2016, I moved to Kiel and started my PhD within the framework of the ‘Collaborative Research Centre 1266: Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies’ (link). My dissertation focussed on the study of archaeobotanical remains from Kakucs-Turján, a Bronze Age settlement located in modern Central Hungary. The research itself included fieldwork at Kakucs-Turján and a great amount of archaeobotanical lab work that involved the identification of seeds and fruits. Furthermore, I could learn more about the identification of wood charcoal, which has broadened my perspectives on archaeobotanical remains as well as my skills within the field of archaeobotany. I completed my dissertation in December 2019 and defended it in March 2020. In July 2020, I joined the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS as a postdoctoral fellow.

Life beyond ROOTS: what do you like to do beyond your research?    
There is a long list of things that I enjoy doing! For example, I like spending time in my kitchen, experimenting with fermentation, baking, and cooking. I love eating good food and drinking good beverages. I enjoy being lazy on the couch, playing video games, watching a film or series, or listening to music. I am also an active and adventurous person, doing yoga, taking hikes, and travelling close to home as well as to remote destinations. Above all, I like to combine these activities in the company of my partner, family, and friends.
Sonja Filatova is a postdoctoral fellow with the ROOTS subcluster ‘Dietary ROOTS’ (link).

You can contact her at:


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions